Oregon’s Cannabis Legalization Initiative: One Step Forward

Probably no one in the country has been more outspoken and eloquent in simultaneously criticizing the cannabis prohibition status quo and arguing it’s very important how legalization is implemented than UCLA’s Mark Kleiman. You may recall his essay in the March/April 2014 issue of the Washington Monthly warning that the new legalized regimes in Colorado and Washington might not work as advertised, and calling for federal legislation to addresses some of state-based legalization’s pitfalls.

So now as Oregon voters deal with their own legalization initiative, placed on the ballot because the legislature would not act, Kleiman (at Ten Miles Squares) ponders the question of whether a poorly crafted initiative that forces the legislature to make improvements on it is better than doing nothing at all. He concludes taking a step forward with a “yes” vote is the right way to go, though not with some misgivings:

[T]he choice Oregon voters face isn’t between what’s on the ballot and some perfectly designed cannabis policy; it’s between what’s on the ballot and continued prohibition at the state level, until and unless a better initiative can be crafted, put before the voters, and passed into law.

Measure 91 would enact an ordinary law, not a constitutional amendment. If it passes, the legislature will be free to amend it the next day by a simple majority vote; such moves are allowed not only by law but by the conventions of Oregon politics.

So the question facing Oregonians who want adults to be able to buy cannabis legally – without the nonsense of finding a “kush doctor” and faking an ailment – is whether to defeat the proposition and hope that the legislature will act on its own (or that a better-drafted bill will appear on the ballot in 2016) or whether instead to pass the current proposition and hope that the legislature will move to fix what’s wrong with it.

Given the balance of political forces, it seems more reasonable to trust the legislature to rein in a too-lax legalization scheme than to expect it to do what no legislature in the nation has been willing to do yet: pass a full cannabis-legalization law.

Check it all out; it’s a good review course on Kleiman’s excellent advice on how to end cannabis prohibition.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.